Tilling the fertile stretches of land that exist between oddly inspiring and just plain odd, Jacques Audiard’s tale of chapped love is dubious in design but uplifting in execution. Based on characters created by Canadian author Craig Davidson, the French auteur’s latest exploration of a young man making his way through trying, violent times stands out in setting and circumstance.
Fleeing a bad relationship in Belgium, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) crashes at the Antibes apartment of his mostly estranged sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) with his young son Sam (Armand Verdure) in tow. A bouncer gig at a local club puts him in front of Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), a sullen killer-whale trainer who’s unhappy with her everyday — and that’s before a freak work disaster results in the loss of both her legs. Looking to get back into the ring, trained kickboxer Ali begins taking on underground brawls, while Stéphanie, who’s grown attached to her friend’s tender, sexual side but can’t thaw his chilly comportment, fights from the inside out.
Schoenaerts and Cotillard turn in ingenious performances, with both characters’ emotional impenetrability made more stark by the paradisal French Riviera. Audiard lightly falters in his over-establishment of Cotillard as damaged, but it remains a beautiful movie with a beautiful message.